Late last month, advocates for the city’s disabled filed a dual class action suit against the MTA for discrimination against wheelchair users and for excluding people with disabilities (PWDs). That means two suits were filed: one is the first case to ever challenge the MTA because more than 350 subway stations aren’t accessible to anyone who can’t use stairs; the second suit accuses the agency of not maintaining its paltry elevator system and was filed in federal court. Here to explain the lawsuits, and discuss other relevant issues, is friend to The Morning Show, Susan Dooha, executive director of Center for Independence of the Disabled of NY or CIDNY.
Dooha explains how NYC has the largest, most used subway system in the US, but that only 22% is accessible. CIDNY and their partners were galvanized after hearing story after story from PWDs when escalators and elevators are out of service, "about not getting where they need to go...of the humiliation of having to crawl up steps" while others carry their wheelchairs for them, "or being rerouted through the system for hours." The affect of not having a working elevator or escalator "cuts people off from the important parts of daily life," Dooha says.
The federal portion of the suits focuses on the "chronic" problem of broken elevators in the subways, where in just one year alone, "4,117 elevator break-downs" occurred. "They can be very extended," Dooha says, and once one is shut down, it can no longer be counted on because there's no telling for how long it will be closed. This often leads to PWDs having to travel circuitous routes that can take hours. Even when elevators are working, "They're often filthy and really not usable." Dooha explains the MTA's lack of maintenance and will are are the main reasons.
"The biggest issue is that the system as a whole is not accessible," she says while other cities have managed to accomplish this. Dooha points to the systems in Washington, DC and San Francisco which are considered 100% accessible. In old cities like NYC--where the infrastructure is ancient--Boston has a 74% accessibility rate, Philadelphia has a 68% rate, and Chicago has a 67% against NYC's 22%. There is a common argument NYC can't upgrade because the infrastructure is too old. But historic cities in the US are able to do it, Dooha says, and across world: Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei... "NYC can look across the globe at world-class cities that have made their cities accessible, despite the fact they have very old infrastructures."
Other transportation issues affecting people today, include the controversial Access-A-Ride program which Dooha calls "unreliable," with long delays, missed pick-ups, and needs advanced notice. People struggle with the application process, she says, and when a complaint is made, while there is acknowledgement of it, "There's no information about the resolution or how it was achieved...so it's hard to know what happened or that it wont happen again," Dooha explains.
Dooha says they are hopeful the lawsuits can make the subway system accessible and maintained, and within a reasonable time-frame. "We know this will require considerable effort, and when the decision is rendered, you still have to struggle for implementation." They've seen this with numerous other issues with the city: it fails to move forward as if they don't take the court's order seriously, so help from the community is critical to make implementation happen. "They need us to be watching."
Regarding last year's curb cuts settlement, the agreement "unfortunately" included no time-tables or benchmarks, no way of knowing what would be accessible and by when, and didn't speak to maintaining the curb cuts. Dooha says the court has appointed a special master to report later this spring on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its compliance. Then, the court will have to decide whether or not the settlement agreement is adequate. "We don't think it is," Dooha explains because for one, it doesn't cover making improvements for the blind or those with low vision. She also describes how the curb cuts down along Broadway alone often have the wrong slopes, there's broken concrete--where rain often pools-- physical obstructions, and some don't exist at all where they are supposed to. "There's a long way to go," she believes.
Nationally, there is a constant threat "to strip away protects in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), especially concerning PWDs and the poor. "The threat to Medicaid is very serious," she believes and they will "not accept [a] Trumpcare alternative." They are fighting to prevent the decimation of Medicaid. Another threat is to the ADA itself. "We're very worried they'll strip protections allowing people to get remedies. Remember, there is no right unless you have a remedy in court," Dooha says. A current proposed amendment to the ADA would require someone to have to give notice within a period of time specifying what the ADA violation a business is committing, then gives that business a "bunch" of time to remedy, all before anyone can take them to task. "It's a horrible law that acts as if we haven't had a civil rights law for the last 27 years," she says.